In TheAgeOfAccess, JeremyRifkin has this to say about world music :

Always on the lookout for new sounds, the recording companies have begun to search out indigenous forms of music that can be made more contemporary with electronic amplification and synthesizers. Often, native music is combined with other, more contemporary music to create what the industry calls "fusion" or "hybridized music" ... Cuban salsa, zouk from the French Antilles, rembetika from Greece, rai from Algeria, and qawwali from India are among the many varieties of world music that have become popular

In it's native guise, much of this music represents a form of cultural capital - a medium for expressing the shared values and historical legacy of a people. Indigenous music often expresses the plight and circumstances of of a group or speaks to their spiritual yearnings and political aspirations. In it's cultural form, music is a strong conveyor of social meaning. It mobilizes deeply held feelings. When appropriated, packaged, commodified and sold in the form of world music, the central message of the music often is watered down or lost altogether. For example, critics point out that salsa, a musical genre that emerged from the impoverished urban neighbourhoods of cuba and Puerto Rico and originally conveyed the harsh realities of life in the barrios and the pride of Latino solidarity, was made more bland and sentimentalizd so it would be more entertaining and palatable to first world audiences. The rai music of Algeria has suffered a similar fate ... it's capacity to act as a vehicle for expressing concerns of an anti-establishment constituency in Algeria ("the young, the working class, the unemployed, the illiterate, the dispossessed, the fed up") is threatened.

... [Some people] argue that the real impact of world music is to seriously weaken local cultures by transforming a primary channel for communicating shared meanings into a kind of packaged mass entertainment that, while it retains the form, eliminates both the substance and context that make the music a powerful expression of human sentiment.

Some random thoughts

  • OK, there's some truth in this, but ...
  • Though the form of music is becoming detached from the content, that doesn't necessarily mean people are losing musical vehicles for that content. Others are being discovered : punk and rap are widely adopted as substitutes to express the views of an anti-establishment constituency. This substitution of the local for the global may represent an aesthetic loss, but does it represent a loss of content?

: Or political feeling? How is political feeling accounted? And why should we require culture to preserve it?

  • Even as folk musics are sucked in as raw material for pop, so some pop reverts back into folklore. Witness every Brazilian band can knock out half a dozen Beatles tunes. Jazz standards. 60s girl pop and psychadelic and garage rock become cults for small groups of afficionadoes, become a model for minority movements at a later time. Do we invest new musics with equivalent symbology? Witness the myth making around hip-hop, rave, jungle, UKG or Baltimore House.
  • Also, thinking that, as music is one of the earliest examples of this kind of cultural re-appropriation by capitalism (see more TheAgeOfAccess when I write about it), maybe it's an example of music "herralding" future patterns and trends, as suggested by JacquesAttali in Noise.
  • Rifkin goes on to describe a cultural conflict over food. This has given us the SlowFood Movement in Italy (See also SlowNetworks)
  • Momus's notion of Folktronica is more a celebration of the process of the co-option of cultural purity by CulturalCapitalism (disguised as scepticism about the authentic). But, for example, Jarre in Hicksville describes pop becoming folk.
  • My anarchist nephews go round in Sex Pistols T-shirts, surely fake reverting to authenticity.

CategoryMusic